Color Adjustment: Blacks in Prime Time

Director: Marlon T. Riggs

Institute History

  • 1992 Sundance Film Festival


Provocative, engaging and scrupulously researched, Color Adjustment examines the relationship between prime-time television and America’s racial consciousness. Taking as duel points of departure the cautious optimism with which Blacks returned to civilian life after World War II and the concurrent birth of television, Riggs demonstrates how prime time inherited stereotypical images of Blacks from radio, and proceeded to build from the start a white myth of the American dream that denied access to Blacks. Sequences showing the complacent households and family groups that permeated prime time throughout the 1950s and 1960s are layered to the point of insipid overload. Color Adjustment punctuates a chronology of television programs featuring black characters with the recollection of actresses (Esther Rolle, Diahann Carroll), scholars (Henry Louis Gates, Jr., Alvin Poussaint), and producers (David Wolper, Hal Kanter), the latter contingent offering some especially revealing insights into the disjunctive connection between commercial concerns and the inclusion of positive black roles. With the civil rights movement, the reality of race relations reframed television, and the tension between the images of Blacks on the nightly news and their scarcity during prime time became evident. Riggs carefully traces the attempts to redress the inequities up to the present, and reaches the unsettling conclusion that through four decades, television has accomplished little to transcend its basically homogenized representation of reality.

— Marian Luntz

Screening Details

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